There is only one good thing to emerge from baseball commissioner Rod Manfred’s overly nuanced handling of Yulieski Gurriel’s racist gesture and words towards Yu Darvish in Game 3 of the World Series: The precedent has been set, and now a five-game suspension is the standard for any future incident.
That’s an increase over the two games that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Kevin Pillar and the Oakland Athletics‘ Matt Joyce received during the regular season for uttering a homophobic slur – Yunel Escobar, of the 2012 Blue Jays, received three games for writing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack – and since it appears as if the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and Gurriel have opted not to appeal the decision, Manfred now has precedent should he issue another five-game suspension during the regular season that ends up being appealed. His hand is strengthened for similar situations in the future – an important aspect given the fact that he is bound in many ways by the game’s collective bargaining agreement. This is how punishment is increased incrementally while keeping the lawyers happy.
Having said that, this is the World Series, the most significant competition on the MLB calendar and one that has a major international footprint and Gurriel has personally insulted a huge swath of the game’s fanbase. The fact Gurriel played in Japan and admitted a full understanding of the nature of his act means he should have known better; that he should not be in need of a “teachable moment.” It matters not that Darvish forgave him; society as a whole deems this to be a racist gesture. Therefore, it is a racist gesture. It’s that simple.
(For a different perspective, I would direct your attention to this column by the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez, who is of mixed El Salvadoran-Japanese descent and has been the subject of identical gestures and words.)
Look: Manfred isn’t NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, a dim build of an empty suit whose only strength (knowing which owner to coddle) is slipping away and who might be in his dying days as the worst commissioner in professional sports. He isn’t Bud Selig, who would twist and turn and eventually kind of/sort of/almost get to the right place. By and large, he gets things right and if five games is the new standard for this stuff, it’s a start. But I’m not certain more good would not have been done by suspending Gurriel immediately – even if that wouldn’t have carried a financial penalty because the money players earn during the post-season is above and beyond their salary – and putting up with the immediate fallout. Manfred better hope Gurriel doesn’t hit a series-clinching home run in Game 6 or 7.
In the meantime, somebody has to come clean on this whole notion that the grain of the World Series baseball is smoother than those during the regular season – as just about every pitcher of significance in this series seems to have told Tom Verducci. I don’t know if it’s planned or the product of crappy quality control, and I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but based on what we heard all season long from pitchers it’s a matter that needs to be addressed once and for all in the off-season. It’s gone from being one of those “only in baseball” urban myths to a matter of consumer confidence.
I wonder what the late Bryan Murray thinks about all this – well, about all this stuff going on with the Vegas Golden Knights.
A skeptic might suggest that this is where the rubber meets the road for the Knights, who are 8-1-0 going into Monday’s matchup with the New York Islanders in what is the first of six road games for the expansion team following a 6-0 homestand. It’s been a historic start for the Knights: No team since the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas and Montreal Canadiens (6-1-0) had won six of its first seven home games in club history. Since that was the first season of the league’s existence … yeah, that qualifies as pretty significant history.
It made me think back to Murray’s comments to a reporter on the day the NHL revealed its proposal for the expansion draft, and how the league wanted expansion teams to be “somewhat competitive” (in other words, not embarrassing but not good enough to win a Stanley Cup). Now, it’s true that it’s easier to formulate a workable expansion draft in a league with a salary cap, since it places the strategic pressure on the new team’s partners to get their thinking and analysis right as opposed to the league office. But commissioner Gary Bettman and his lieutenants deserve credit for not foisting another weak sister on their brethren, and if I’m a potential expansion owner in a city such as Seattle or Houston, I’m intrigued by the idea that I will have a league office not simply interested in taking my money and running.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• No sport condones bad behaviour in the stands or on the field like football, so let’s give a shout out to the officiating crew at Saturday’s Tennessee-Kentucky SEC game that assessed off-setting personal fouls to every player after a first-quarter skirmish.
That meant that each player finished out the game knowing that another personal foul would result in being automatically ejected, and put the onus squarely on the guys who never seem to get their comeuppance for crappy behaviour on the part of their athletes: the coaches and their staff. Not everybody got the message, two players from each team ended up being tossed for infractions later on in the game.
• This just in from the work-in-progress dept.: going into Sunday’s games the Toronto Raptors – who will face the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night – were fourth in the NBA in assists per game (24.6, with the Golden State Warriors setting the pace at an even 30 per game), second in three-point shots attempted (34.6, behind the Houston Rockets at 44.2), and 29th in percentage of threes made (29.5), behind the New York Knicks (27.8). Not sure if that’s good or bad, but there you go.
• The Minnesota Timberwolves starters combined for 88.2 per cent of their team’s points in Friday’s 119-116 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Vaughan, Ont.’s. Andrew Wiggins accounting for 14 of the unit’s 105 points. It was the ninth time since the start of last season that the T-Wolves starters scored 88 per cent or more of their team’s points in a game. The Washington Wizards (six), Cleveland Cavaliers (four), and Trail Blazers (four) are the only teams whose starters come close to that level of production – speaking of not being sure whether that’s a good or bad thing.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan